Via San Francesco
Via San Francesco is the largest street of the historic centre of the town, it connects Basilica of San Francesco and the main square. The street is sheer in most of its length and demanding when passing in from the direction of basilica.
Santa Chiara's basilica (St Claire's basilica)
Construction work on the church and adjacent convent of St Claire began in 1257, three years after the saint's death and a year after she was canonised.
Until then the sisters of St Claire had lodged at San Damiano. The church dedicated to St Claire occupied the site of the church of San Giorgio, where St Francis had been buried before his remains were moved to the basilica in 1230.
The exterior of the building makes use of alternate strips of pink and white stone, with massive supporting arches either side.
The interior has the same layout as the Upper Basilica of St Francis, with a single nave that terminates in a transept and polygonal apse. Like St Francis', a gallery runs the entire perimeter of the church, although here it is on the same level as the capitols. On the right hand side of the nave the Cappella del Crocifisso and the Cappella del Sacramento were once part of the nave of the previously existing church of San Giorgio, where Pope Gregory IX canonised St Francis in 1228.
The wooden "Crucifix? in the Cappella del Crocifisso is alleged to have spoken to St Francis in San Damiano, ordering him to repair the church. Relics of St Francis (the tunic) and St Claire (the hair) are kept behind the grate.
The right hand transept contains a panel with the "Life of St Claire?, by the so-called Maestro di Santa Chiara (late 13th century), as well as frescoes depicting St Claire and Biblical scenes by an artist known as the Maestro Espressionista di Santa Chiara (first half of the 14th century). The "Crucifix? in the apse has also been attributed to the Maestro di Santa Chiara (1280-90).
The Byzantine style Hodegetria type panel on the left hand wall depicts the "Madonna and Child? and is by an unknown artist from the 13th century. The lunettes are decorated with scenes from the Old Testament similar to those in the upper cycle of the Upper Basilica of St Francis (late 13th century).
Passing through Porta Perlici, you comes to the castle of the Rocca Maggiore, which, with its imposing ramparts and towers, dominates the town bellow.
The ancient fortress of Assisi, built before the Lombard occupation, was the scene of many historical events. Once inhabited by Barbarossa in 1174, it was then the home of Corrado di Lutzen, who raised the young Frederick II of Swabia here, until the building was razed to the ground by the inhabitants of Assisi in 1198. Rebulit by the Papal legate, Egidio Albornoz, in second half of the 14th century, it was later enlarged by Popes Pio II and Paul III.
In ancient times, it was attached to the Rocca Minore (Smaller Fortress), which was reconstructed by the Visconti family.
Straight out of the olden days
"A day in Assisi in 2000"
During my time in Italy for World Youth Day in Rome, my group went to visit Assisi for a day, before the WYD events started. Even though the festivities hadn't started yet, the place was full of other WYD pilgrims who had also planned to visit this little village.
We got up very early in the morning because the bus ride from Rome to Assisi would last about 3 hours. I didn't know much about Assisi or about St. Francis, but I overheard the girl who sat behind me on the bus talking about her anticipation to see the village. She is a die-hard tree-hugger (she's a vegetarian, and involved in lots of "save the earth" type of groups), and she mentionned that St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and nature. I thought that was interesting, and I learned more about St. Francis and his life when I got back home.
The village itself is small, and very old-fashioned, charming, and cute. There are lots of hills and cobblestone streets, and we saw a lot of Fransiscan monks walking around. Since it's very small, it's a great place for a day trip for anyone in northern or central Italy.
"7 years later..."
I returned to Italy in June 2007, and though I spent most of my time in Rome, I definitely wanted to visit Assisi again. Actually, what sealed my commitment was something that happened back home in Canada - I was shopping at the local Catholic bookstore a little while before heading out to Europe, and there was a basket there filled with slips of paper with saint names. I could pick a saint, and according to tradition, the saint actually chooses me because he/she wants to spend a year with me, so I must pray to that saint and learn about his/her life, writings, etc. I was totally expecting to get some obscure saint that I've never heard of, but when I got St. Clare of Assisi, my first thought was "I guess I'm going to Assisi then!" I had been thinking of visiting that charming little village but picking her name is what sealed my commitment.
"Return to Assisi for another day"
When I returned to Assisi in June 2007, I took the train from Rome and stayed for the afternoon. The first thing I did was explore St. Francis Basilica, and since it wasn't as crowded as the first time I went, I was really able to explore it well. Plus, since I knew about this saint's life, I was able to appreciate everything so much more. I walked around the village after that and went to St. Clare basilica and prayed at her tomb. I also checked out a few other churches and chapels in the village, as well as a few gift shops (bought a book on the life of St. Clare in a basilica gift shop).
I also remember walking past a few chapels where nuns were singing, and seeing several franciscan monks. I chuckled when I saw one talking on a cell phone! Hehehe... a traditional-looking monk in a robe with a cord around the waist and a long beard, chatting on a cell phone!
There were a lot of visitors in the village that day (including a pilgrim walking barefoot from the St. Francis basilica) but the crowds weren't huge. I'm glad I got to return to Assisi and explore at my own pace without getting stuck in stuffy crowds. Definitely worth a visit!